Award winners at Celtic Connections and firm favourites live, The John Langan Band have independently released their debut album Bones Of Contention. This infectious mix of frenzied abandon and dark contemplation has been an epic undertaking for the trio (John Langan – vocals, guitar; Dave Tunstall – double bass, backing vocals and Alastair Caplan – fiddle, backing vocals). Two years in the making, Bones Of Contention boasts voluptuously proportioned tracks, a veritable United Nations of musical influences and an infectious disregard for musical convention.
The album opens with Aquaplane, the fastest-paced ballad so far this year. The a capella opening gives way to a Balkan / Spanish fusion of piping hot fiddle / guitar with naught but a driving bass to keep them under control. As the tale unfolds, the first of the extensive instrumental breaks the album luxuriates in demonstrates the finest of guitar, bass and fiddle in turn. With the attention of the listener firmly in their grasp, the band switch to the mellow, dreamy Winter Song. One to please the most ardent lover of folk music, Winter Song feels like a summer love song and, despite the contemporary nature and rich production of the album, has a very 1970’s folk sentimentality. Fiddler Alastair Caplin has enjoyed an honourable mention on these pages before, when his extraordinary fiddle playing brought great depth to Brooke Sharkey‘s May EP – his own fiddle-piece inserted among the summer haze is comparable with Aiden O’Rourke at his best. Although the most overtly folky section of the album, later on the lyrically rich Auld Jimmy nods to a kindred lineage. Among the high energy are more mellow moments, with the sombre guitar and piano of Piano Miniature allowing a brief classical influence on the scene.
The energy of this album will bring listeners back time and again. The sinister instrumental Midgets On Acid takes an accordion on a tempestuous chase through dark, damp streets. The toe-tapping happy busker in Pumpkin Pie shows the laddie Nutini how it really should be done and there’s even a cheery wee tune about lung disease.
The album has its darker phases too, despite the seemingly endless vivacity. Demons, with its bowed acoustics and two-pronged attack on musical sensibilities presents shades of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band before a less than heavenly choir leads to a fiery, frantic conclusion. In Streets of Glasgow observations of city low-life sit proudly somewhere between Jacques Brel and Irvine Welsh.
There are even shades of Delta Blues (albeit in a dizzying duel with an Appalachian fiddle), with Charlie’s Rant showing off John Langan’s guitar prowess. This segues headlong into D-mented, where the processing is switched up to max, as a fiddle wails hysterically over the top of a bowed double bass that’s being punished beyond its endurance while striving to inject some structure. Eventually, there’s the arrival of a rainy mandolin to wash the blood from the battlefield before leading a dance around the corpses.
Conventions are abandoned with a recklessness that borders on the insane; in Bones Of Contention, The John Langan Band offer a collection of songs and tunes that take us on a vertigo-inducing reel around European and American acoustic traditions delivered with a jagged, punky and irresistible edge. That a few guys from Glasgow could conspire to create such an immense sound between them is not unprecedented, but to achieve this with such lyrical and instrumental flair is a rare, rare thing.
Review by: Neil McFadyen